Our every-so-often look at Notre Dame's scholarship room and roster depth analysis is back today. Jim and I did a Q&A session revolving around this topic and some 2015 recruiting targets back in late February and you have to go all the way back to a couple days before Christmas when we did a full blown look at the Irish roster as National Signing Day 2014 was approaching.
National Signing Day has since passed, the 2014 recruits are going to report to campus very soon, so now it's time to take another look at the 2015 class and how things are shaping up.
As of this writing Notre Dame has 83 scholarships handed out to players who will be playing in the 2014 season. That leaves room for 2 more scholarships either in the form of transfers or awarding the honor to walk-ons.
Out of Eligibility Following 2014 Season:
OL Lombard, DT Utupo, LB Moore, CB Riggs, S Collinsworth, RB McDaniel, TE Koyack, DE Williams, CB Atkinson, K/P Brindza
Only having 10 players definitely leaving the roster after this upcoming season is a very small amount. It is because of this that the initial 2015 recruiting class is projected to be on the smaller size. However, the current rising junior class (who will be seniors when the current 2015 recruiting class arrives on campus) is offering some breathing room. That was a small class--just 17 players signed--that is even smaller with the transfers of Shepard, Kiel, Neal, and Ferguson, plus the addition 2 years later following a Mission and subsequent transfer of Badger.
Now, let's fast forward to Signing Day and take a look at the numbers as they pertain to the 2015 cycle.
2015-16 Academic Classes
- 9 Verbal Freshmen Commits
- 23 Sophomores
- 22 Juniors
- 13 Seniors
- 15 Fifth-Year Seniors
82 Total Scholarships
If Notre Dame brings back every single fifth-year senior then there is only room for 3 more freshmen in the 2015 recruiting class, assuming a transfer or walk-on does not receive a multi-year scholarship.
Obviously, the chances of Notre Dame bringing back 15 seniors eligibile for a fifth year is very slim.
List of 5th-Year Seniors
Definitely Coming Back if Healthy and/or Not Declaring for the NFL
Borderline Group Next in Line
Likely Not Coming Back
This is how I've mentally divided up the candidates for an extra year in South Bend. In my opinion, we'll see an absolute minimum of 6 seniors coming back and no more than 11. Let's use 9 as the magical number coming back for illustrative purposes.
With 9 fifth-year seniors returning for 2015 that drops the scholarship number down to 76. Assuming no other attrition (juniors leaving early for the NFL, medical scholarships, transfers, etc.) the Irish could bring in an additional 9 recruits which would make the 2015 recruiting class 18 players full.
An estimate on the minimum is 16 or 17 scholarships available this cycle with 19 or 20 looking like the conservative ceiling when you factor in the almost inevitable attrition that occurs every year. Getting up to 21 or 22 may not be likely but wouldn't be a huge surprise either.
Roster (3): Golson, Zaire, Kizer
Commits (1): Barnett
Notre Dame is finally sitting pretty at quarterback with talent and depth. If Golson were to leave for the NFL following 2014 it's not the end of the world from a depth perspective with a quarterback like Barnett that could legitimately challenge for snaps as a true freshman. Will Golson walk away from the possible 18 starters coming back for Brian Kelly's most loaded roster to date in 2015?
Roster (3): McDaniel, Folston, Bryant
In my mind it is an absolute priority that 2 running backs are signed for 2015. Even with Carlisle and Mahone having the ability to cross-train this is the least healthy spot on the roster in terms of numbers. Keep in mind Mahone hasn't been able to stay healthy and Carlisle is in the borderline group for fifth year offers, plus there's always the possibility that Folston (or Bryant too) leaves early for the NFL after 2015. With the loss of McDaniel adding two tailbacks has to happen this cycle. I think it's important to get one on board before the football season begins.
Roster (10): Daniels, Carlisle, Brown, Prosise, Mahone, Fuller, Robinson, Hunter, Brent, Holmes
Commits (2): Guyton, Sanders
The word on the street is that Notre Dame is still actively recruiting wide receivers and would take as many as 2 more for 2015. It's impossible to know exactly what the staff is thinking (it seems highly likely Daniels is gone for the NFL no matter what) but from a numbers restriction this group is quite full right now. Take away Daniels (NFL), Carlisle (possible move to running back, plus not coming back for 2015), and Mahone (health concerns, possible move to running back) and there's some more room to work with moving forward if you're inclined to look at things this way.
Roster (5): Koyack, Smythe, Heuerman, Luatua, Weishar
Notre Dame will probably add a tight end at some point but it's near the bottom on the priority list this cycle. Koyack is gone after 2014 but the rest of this group will have anywhere from 12 to 16 years of eligibility left heading into 2015. It doesn't seem as though the staff is particularly enamored with the tight end class too. I wouldn't be surprised to see a H-back type of player added late instead of a more traditional Notre Dame-type tight end if the numbers open up a little bit towards the end of this fall and into the New Year.
Roster (2): Martin, Hegarty
Commits (1): Hoge
Everything is awesome.
Roster (7): Lombard, Elmer, Hanratty, Harrell, Montelus, Mustipher, Byrne
Commits (1): Ruhland
Everything is awesome.
Roster (6): Stanley, McGlinchey, Bivin, McGovern, Nelson, Bars
Commits (1): Tillery
Everything is awesome.
Roster (9): I. Williams, Okwara, Hounshell, Rabasa, Trumbetti, Blankenship, Bonner, Hill, J. Williams
With a huge class of 5 incoming freshmen (we're including Jhonny Williams here although he might be an outside linebacker) Notre Dame can afford to be a little picky with this position. At least one lanky speed rusher has to be a priority for Brian VanGorder, though.
Roster (9): Day, Jones, Springmann, Utupo, Rochell, Matuksa, Hayes, Mokwuah, Cage
Three incoming freshmen plus only Utupo definitely leaving after 2014 also means the staff will be forced to be picky with this position. If Sheldon Day has a huge year and enters the NFL then this spot becomes more of a priority. If Day stays for his senior season you're looking at a very healthy tackle position for the Irish.
Roster (7): Grace, Schmidt, Moore, Deeb, Randolph, Morgan, Martini
Commits (1): Barajas
I'm repeating myself but when you bring in 12 defenders in one class for the front seven there's just not going to be room for many bodies in the following class. That's where we are for 2015. As we've said previously, depth in terms of bodies is not a major concern at inside linebacker but somebody has to step up this fall. For recruiting the odds are pretty high that Nyles Morgan could be a 3+ year starter. That should give the staff a lot of flexibility to recruit over the next couple of cycles but it's important not to be stuck in a situation like we have this fall where one major injury collapsed the experience of the unit. Getting Barajas to flip from Penn State is a great follow up to 2014. I believe the staff can stand pat with him as the lone true middle linebacker for this 2015 class.
Roster (6): Smith, Councell, Turner, Onwualu, Sykes, Tranquill
This has become one of the most flexible positions on the team. As such, it'll be difficult to pin down recruiting numbers and targets. We can fit into this position large strong-side linebackers like Councell, jack of all trades athletes like Jaylon, converted safeties like Onwulau, and any fast athletes who are in the 6-2 to 6-3 range. Depending on where the staff plans on taking the outside positions we should see at least one recruit coming here for 2015, and with the likely attrition, probably room for two when it's all said and done.
Roster (8): Russell, Luke, Riggs, Butler, Farley, Brown, Atkinson, Watkins
Commits (1): Fertitta
Although Nicco Fertitta is listed as a safety by the services he should be a corner in college. I still doubt that Russell leaves after 2014 but if he does corner will need more bodies. Cody Riggs and Josh Atkinson are gone for sure, while Matthias Farley is at the bottom of the borderline fifth-year group, and Jalen Brown is unlikely to come back. If Russell does in fact leave then Farley probably shoots up into the 'definitely coming back' group but either way we'll probably see only 4 non-freshmen corners return in 2015. That's why this position has to be targeted heavily this cycle.
Roster (5): Collinsworth, Redfield, Shumate, Hardy, Baratti
Commits (1): McKinney
Not that long ago this position was stocked with bodies but no more. Farley has moved to corner, Turner has moved to outside linebacker, and Onwualu was supposed to be a safety but looks to be a situational outside linebacker. So now we're down to 5 for this fall with Collinsworth running out of eligibility and Hardy unlikely to return. Grabbing the rangy McKinney is a good start to recruiting safety, and one more body is a good idea.
Roster (3): Brindza, Daly, Newsome
I personally don't like handing out scholarships to special teams players but that's not always realisitc. I don't foresee Notre Dame handing one out for 2015 but exploring the option of a walk-on kicker is a must.
2015 Recruiting Class Targets (18 scholarships)
The top positional priorities have to be running back and the secondary. Beyond that the overall roster health is very well balanced. Barring any decommits (LSU will continue sniffing around Tillery) we should be done at offensive line. The same goes for quarterback with one of the country's best already in the fold.
With Guyton and Sanders it would seem that there isn't more room for wideouts but that clearly isn't the staff's plan. That's why I'm thinking Sanders is a possible candidate for the secondary. If so, the Irish can bring in one more secondary recruit, an additional receiver, and try to fill the quota at running back.
It's weird not seeing Notre Dame taking a tight end and clearly that is the first position to target if the available scholarships opens up down the road. Right now I don't know which position you'd take from in order to get a tight end in the fold and the Irish are only really keeping tabs on two at the position right now, one of which (Alize Jones, UCLA), is already committed.
Priority Targets for 9 more scholarships: 2 RB, 1 CB, 1 S, 2 DE, 2 DT, 1 OLB